France Dives Into Offshore Wind

France will soon join other European countries like England, Scotland, and Denmark in generating electricity from offshore wind projects free from the environmental impacts associated with carbon or nuclear energy. This week French officials are announcing a plan to install six hundred wind turbines capable of producing 3,000 megawatts of energy. These turbines will be distributed across five sites between Saint-Nazaire and Dieppe/Le Treport, and will help achieve the French government’s goal of generating 23% of France’s electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2020.

The recently announced wind farm will be France’s first offshore wind project. However while the country has been slower than some of its neighbors to get on the offshore wind band wagon, it now appears poised to make up for lost time. The six hundred turbines will take France halfway to its official goal of producing 6,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2020. In fact there is a very real possibility France will easily exceed that national goal. About thirty offshore wind projects are in various stages of development or proposal in France—and if all are actually built they will generate 8,000 megawatts.

Interestingly at least some French officials are concerned because while France has a lot of potential for developing offshore wind, there are no French companies prepared to build offshore wind farms themselves. Thus the newly announced project will probably be build by companies based out of Germany, Denmark, and other countries that dove into offshore wind earlier. The situation underlines the importance of nations bolstering their ability to produce clean energy infrastructure if they want to enjoy the full benefits of the renewable revolution. The United States might do well to take heed, as failure to invest early in renewable energy means the US risks have to import solar panels and wind turbine parts from other countries. Both France and the US will benefit if they can become producers of renewable energy equipment and build their wind and solar farms with domestically based companies.

To draw another parallel with the United States, France’s offshore wind sector has been slow in getting off the ground in part because of complex regulatory hurdles that have kept projects in the proposal stages since 2005. The situation is reminiscent of the United States where Cape Wind, which will probably become the first US offshore wind project to begin construction, has been delayed for years by litigation and red tape.

Now both France and the US are nearing the point where they can soon start building their first offshore wind farms, and this will hopefully clear the way for other such projects in future. As offshore wind takes root in countries around the world, more and more people in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere will be able to flip a switch and call on carbon-neutral electrons generated from the windy skies above the worlds’ great oceans.

Photo credit: Phil Hollman